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2022 Braves position evaluations: Shortstop

2022 Braves position evaluations: Shortstop

My positional evaluation series has now moved to perhaps the most important position in the infield, shortstop. Be sure to check out FanGraphs shortstop positional power rankings post from Wednesday. You can also take a gander at the positions I’ve covered so far…

Shortstop

Last season’s results

Individually, shortstop Dansby Swanson put together by far the best performance of his career in 2021, playing in 160 games and hitting .248 with 27 home runs, 88 RBI and nine stolen bases, good for a 98 wRC+. His 3.2 WAR last season was nearly as much as he tallied in 2019 and 2020 combined, as Swanson saw a huge improvement in the power department, as well as his defense.

However, as far as the league was concerned, the Braves one-man shortstop group was roughly league-average, finishing the regular season tied at 15th in MLB in collective shortstop WAR. Many teams had, and still have, multiple players to man the position. Teams like the Padres who received over 4 WAR from each of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jake Croneworth; or the Brewers, who got a combined 6.4 WAR in 2021 from Willy Adames and Luis Urias. Barring an MVP-like season by Swanson, the Braves may never rank within the top-5 or -10 in shortstop play, not from the contributions of just one player.

But exactly where the team finishes on the WAR leaderboard every year isn’t as important. What matters is that Swanson had the best season of his MLB career in 2021. His biggest improvements (other than his plus defense) was his power outburst (5th most HR among SS in MLB), his hard-hit rate (top 10 among SS in MLB) and the fact that, for the first time in his six-year big league career, he played in nearly every single game. Sure, the Braves shortstop position wasn’t among the best last year, but it’s hard to fault Swanson.

Changes and outlook for 2022

Entering his age-28 campaign and his final year of arbitration (causing many to call for an extension from the Braves), Swanson will once again man the shortstop position in Atlanta – his sixth consecutive season as the team’s starter. The Braves didn’t do much in terms of adding reinforcements for Swanson this offseason, as the bench features just Orlando Arcia as a viable back-up. In fact, with Brock Holt requesting his release on Thursday and John Nogowski optioned to the minors on Wednesday, I believe only Arcia, Phil Gosselin and Pat Valaika remain on the team’s roster at this time.

Braves 2022 Shortstop Projections

Table comes from FanGraphs shortstop MLB positional rankings

Per FanGraphs shortstop positional power rankings (posted on Wednesday), the Braves rank just outside the top-20 in MLB at no. 21. As mentioned above, a lot of it is because Atlanta depends so much on Swanson for its production at the position, where other teams usually have at least two players that’ll see an abundance of playing-time. I don’t care how good or bad Arcia is, 35 PA isn’t enough to make much of an impact.

But regardless, ZiPS sees some regression from Swanson this coming season, projecting a WAR total over half-a-win less than last year’s. I don’t really understand the middling expectations, especially given the Braves shortstop hasn’t posted that low of a slash-line since his 2018 campaign (his second full-season in the majors). The projected defense is a bit of a question mark as well. Not only did Swanson rate well per Def WAR, at 8.1 in 2021, but his 3 OAA per Statcast was solid too, suggesting he truly is a plus defender at shortstop.

I’ve already discussed Arcia quite a bit in this series, given he looks to be the Braves main back-up infielder this coming season. As we’re all already aware, shortstop is the 27-year-old’s primary position (even though he didn’t play there much last year). I like Arcia as a defender, but on offense he hasn’t been much help, sporting a .240 AVG and 80 wRC+ over the last two seasons between Milwaukee and Atlanta. Maybe he gets back to his early Brewers days and becomes a much better contributor with the bat in 2022.

Here’s what FanGraphs had to say Wednesday about the Braves shortstop position for the 2022 season…

“Swanson was the ultimate “would be a 3 WAR player with an average bat” candidate for a while, and in 2021, he finally managed to hit that mark, slashing .248/.311/.449 (98 wRC+) in a career-best 160 games. The incremental gains in hard-hit rate since his rookie season have paid off, and he’s also laying off pitches outside the zone (good) while upping the aggression versus pitches inside the zone (also good!). There’s reason to believe more is possible, but because he hasn’t lost a step on defense – his range and throwing arm remain exceptional – the current version of Swanson leaves less to be desired than before. The Braves acquired Arcia in April of last season from Milwaukee, and team and player recently agreed to a two-year contract worth $3 million. That arrangement means Swanson doesn’t have to put up the fight alone, but Arcia as the sole backup is nonetheless kiddie-pool-shallow. On the field, he looks the part of shortstop but he is often prone to mistakes, and has been in the red in terms of offense throughout his career. Atlanta’s predicament is similar to that of the Mets: one great player against a bare backdrop. Will the Braves end up pleased with their shortstop situation? That depends mostly on Swanson’s availability.”

My Braves shortstop grade: B

I know I’m higher on Swanson than the projections, which is why I still believe this is an above average position for the Braves heading into 2022. However, the lack of depth worries me a bit. After Swanson, Arcia is really the only other player that could decently hold down the spot, as prospect Braden Shewmake is still a bit too far away, and Vaughn Grissom hasn’t even played in the upper-minors yet. I guess it won’t really matter, as long as Swanson remains healthy. If he can even put up 80% of the numbers he posted in 2021, I believe this will be a strong position for Atlanta in 2022.

4 responses to “2022 Braves position evaluations: Shortstop”

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